When Monkeys Fly

21 10 2016


It is very easy to get sucked into other people’s drama. It can come of an honest desire to help. It is someone you care about. It is an opportunity to do some good in the world, to ease the tension and suffering. These are healthy impulses which can lead to happy, life-affirming results.

But they can also lead you down a rabbit hole. Before you know it, you are the victim of emotional vampirism. Your attempts to help come to naught, and the demands for more drain you until you have nothing left to give to anyone else. That’s when it’s time to dig out to sunlight and leave the rabbits to fight it out among themselves.

Volunteering for an organization can be that way. It’s a worthy cause, and you do your best for it. Good feelings all around. Sensible organizations work that way. Fanatical organizations keep demanding more, then lay a guilt trip on you when you reach your limit, whether it be donations of time, money, or labor. They cry, “How can you let down the people depending on you? Don’t you care? Or are you too selfish to give of yourself to this important cause?”

Politics did this to me. I got all enthused and worked hard for the organization, gave money, even pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone to canvass door-to-door. My efforts failed, but never mind, I and my fellows did our best. Now I am expected to continue my efforts. The telephone doesn’t stop ringing and my Facebook feed is packed with exhortations. I am told repeatedly that I must continue to be active even though my enthusiasm is gone. The fate of the world depends on it. Don’t I care? Or am I too selfish to support this vital cause?

And then there are the appeals for donations: heart disease, breast cancer, various handicaps and disabilities, the police chiefs, the firefighters, child abuse, domestic violence, civil rights. The list goes on and on. Each one thinks their cause is special and can’t I even afford a $15 donation? No, I am breathlessly waiting to see if I will be able to pay the mortgage this month.

Wisdom is knowing the difference.

Wisdom is knowing the difference.

It can happen with friends and relatives. Occasionally it is a direct appeal (or assault) and I feel obliged. Usually, though, it’s just me seeing someone in trouble and wanting to help. Because we do have an obligation in this life to look after one another and not ignore suffering when we are able to do something about it. Again, I do my best, but there are times when I see the rabbit hole closing over my head.

I have to take a deep breath, back away, and do some calculations. How much is my help really helping? Do the people involved truly appreciate it, or are they just sucking me in to play a part in their drama? Do I see shades of Machiavelli when I shine a light on their behavior?

It may well be time to invoke that wise old Polish proverb, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”




2 responses

21 10 2016
Mary Jolles

Figuring out whether you actually owe a fellow human being anything is complicated by our natural tendency to compassion. Obligation involves the actual power to do something good plus the relationship you have to the needy person. My husband and I were driving through a remote part of Arizona when we came upon a family with small children whose car had broken down. We stopped and my husband fixed their car while I chatted with the mother, who was anxious because they had seen no one for several hours. Normally on a crowded highway I would never stop to help a stranded motorist because help usually arrives within minutes in the form of a state trooper. But in a remote area, where it is obvious that people are in real trouble and there is no one to help but you, and you have the power to help, then stopping and helping is not only kind, it’s obligatory.

I have less compassion for the charitable organizations that call my house. I owe them nothing.

21 10 2016

One also wonders how much of one’s contribution actually goes to the intended recipient. A staggering percentage of many donations just feed the organization itself.

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